CEO Blog | Funding practice: where the rubber hits the road

23 October 2023

Carol Mack, ACF chief executive, talks about our new series of case studies and how they bring out practical tips and learning for foundations.


Funding practice is a hot topic at the moment. Since the summer members have been telling me about the ‘overwhelming’ level of applications they are receiving. This shows no signs of stopping given the current cost of living crisis. CAF’s recent charity resilience index research found that some six in 10 charities say demand has increased compared to a year ago, with nearly a third saying that it has increased substantially.

Funding practice: where the rubber hits the road
For charities the competition for funding can threaten their very existence. For many foundations the unprecedented volume of applications is impacting on staff workloads and wellbeing and playing havoc with timescales and budgets.

The place where these pressures intersect is in the way that foundations interact with those seeking funding; it’s where the rubber hits the road.

So it seemed obvious that we should choose ‘funding practice’ as our focus for the first in a series of six sets of case studies, shared by members for members, with the aim of bringing out practical tips and learning. They illustrate some of the many ways that the pillars of ambitious practice developed by our member-led Stronger Foundations initiative can be implemented in real life.

Dive into our case study library
I am so grateful to the five members who responded to our call to share these relatable and encouraging insights. The case studies are as varied as the foundations sharing them, and very much ‘warts and all’, reflecting on challenges faced and what they have learned. Here’s a taster to whet your appetite:-

  • From Barking and Dagenham Giving’s experience of setting up a participatory grant-making programme I learned that this can have its challenges, but is do-able and very much worth the effort.
  • Corra Foundation looked at a key concern for many members - how to make funding more accessible, straightforward and suitable for small groups
  • Cripplegate Foundation and Islington Giving share evidence that ‘when we treat people like they matter, amazing things happen’
  • Pears Foundation give some great, practical advice about offering additional support to grantees
  • William Grant Foundation explain how they get candid and targeted feedback from grantees and applicants at different points on their funding journey to improve their impact

There are offers of support in several of these case studies, and many more resources are available if you are looking for inspiration and practical guidance. The ACF Stronger Foundations report is a good place to start as it sets out what you, our members, consider to be ambitious and effective practice. And there are many resources developed by and for our sector that offer additional support.

More sources of practical wisdom

  • The team behind Modern Grantmaking provide a book-load of inspiration, drawn from practical experience and supplemented with a newsletter and networks.
  • In funding, process can be perhaps the most important aspect of practice for those on the receiving end, and #FixTheForm is just one initiative that spells out what makes a difference to applicants.
  • IVAR’s Flexible funding initiative explores how funders, including many ACF members, can adopt open, trusting practice with those that they work with, with lots of practical advice.

Our next set of case studies will focus on transparency and engagement. We’d love to hear about your experiences on this theme and I’m really looking forward to reading your case studies on this important topic for our sector. While we want to hear from all of our members with insights to share, we’re especially interested in learning from smaller foundations. If you’d like to talk an idea through with the team first, please get in touch.

Generosity and the power of collective sharing
Newcomers to the foundation community often comment on how generous members are with sharing their insights and experience. And these inspiring case studies are the evidence of this. The great value of our network is its ability to share learning and inspiration, so that together we can be more than the sum of our parts. This is especially important at a time when we are all struggling to do more, with limited resources.

Thank you for all that you do and for being part of our community – it is deeply appreciated.